Beer & Partridges
In the early days of our nation, voting locations were often at taverns or public squares where political parties supplied alcohol to win friends and influence people! The Beach Area Civic Association (BACA) meeting on Thursday, January 5, at Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café community room had very much that feel, as at least one third of the packed room of roughly 100 people sipped some type of cold, adult beverage during the session that began at 6:30 p.m. With the windows open to take advantage of the beautiful winter evening, music wafted in throughout the discussion from the adjacent café.
Although fortified with liquor and music, the main reason for the large draw was Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, who represents District 3 that includes our community as well as being a former mayor of Fort Myers Beach. The Commish didn’t disappoint, arriving with an entourage that would make a rapper weep; in keeping with the recent Holidays, accompanying him were three county administrators, two county attorneys, and a partridge in a pear tree!
BACA president Charlie Whitehead reminded the audience “we invited these folks here to learn from them and they from us; our title has ‘Civic’ in it because we are an organization that exemplifies civility, so please debate them within reason. We did not invite them here to ridicule or harass.” To the credit of the crowd, and despite or perhaps because of the alcohol, they remained civil throughout the 2-1/2-hour meeting.
A Little Something Going On
In addressing the audience, Commissioner Kiker said “there is a little something going on at San Carlos Island that we need to worry about. When I received your invitation, I said Yes so we can address your questions and concerns. When I was the mayor and on council for 5 years, I did well by sitting down with people; unfortunately Lee County works differently and the law prohibited me from discussing zoning, either with the developer or you, and that is why all this has to happen the way it happens. It is frustrating and not what you will want to hear from me.”
As for the Bay Harbour Marina Village proposed development, he replied that “it is just not as simple as voting No and being done with it. This is a process, and the developer can make this request and that is how it works.”
Following a short break, the crowd significantly shrank, with the Commissioner telling the remaining 30 or so people that he “will not make everyone happy because my job is to get it right.” As for his priorities, “Number One is water. Representative Francis Rooney calls this his #1 as well, and Senator Bill Nelson is more informed on water than almost anyone. Lake Okeechobee is Federal and mostly out of our control, but we successfully testified to gain $2 billion in funding. The 20/20 Conservation Program is a huge success but we need to make the correct purchases and then do the right things with the properties or it does not mean a thing.”
All Hands On Deck
The Commissioner understands the frustration from reFRESH Estero Boulevard: “County Commissioners first began discussing Estero Boulevard in 1963 – that is how long we talked about it! The $80 million project began when I was still Fort Myers Beach Mayor! It was originally a 12-year timeline, with funding every two years per one-mile section, but that was awful. The current Board decided if we were to do this, let’s continue the funding to go straight-through and compress construction to 5 or 6 years. That still seems long, but this is a big project that everyone has their hands in, and if even one party hesitates, we all stop.”
Concerning any potential Lee County property swap for the proposed Fort Myers Beach Grand Resorts Development, the Commissioner said as of now, “no one asked us to approve anything except to put our County OK on the proposal so the developer can initiate the process, but we cannot until they clarify the land ownership and that is tough. This is ultimately a Fort Myers Beach Town Council issue – three of its members ran for their seats to determine this project and now here it is, so make your decision.”
He concluded by saying that “we did not come down here not to listen! You pay our salaries. Let’s not make this the last meeting. We can do this and I hope that is what you take home – you make a difference, and if that means coming down here every other month, then that is what we will do. We will come to speak to you at any time.”
The next BACA Meeting to discuss these developments is Thursday, January 19, at Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café community room at 6:30 p.m.